Cantlay fights through gusting wind, leads American Express
Patrick Cantlay fought through gusting wind on his back nine Friday to take a one-stroke lead into the weekend at The American Express in a bid to win for the third time in four starts.
Tied for the first-round lead with Lee Hodges after a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club, Cantlay shot a 68 on PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 14-under 130.
“I actually putted really well today and made nothing,” Cantlay said. “The greens were a little beat up and it was hard to make putts. But I rolled it really well and I rolled it how I wanted to, I just didn’t get any to go in.”
Tom Hoge was second after a 66 on PGA West’s Stadium Course.
“I really felt fortunate that we got through 17 holes without the wind really coming up,” Hoge said. “Just our last hole there it got gusting.”
Joseph Bramlett, playing in the last group off the 10th tee at La Quinta, bogeyed the final two holes in strong wind for a 67 to drop into a five-man tie for third at 12 under.
“We guessed on the whole back nine and a couple of them I guessed right and a couple of them I guessed wrong,” Bramlett said. “That’s just kind of golf.”
Will Zalatoris birdied his last seven holes on the Nicklaus layout for a 61 to also join Cameron Young (68), Lanto Griffin (65) and Greyson Sigg (67) at 12 under. Young played at Nicklaus, and Griffin and Sigg at the Stadium.
The fourth-ranked Cantlay won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in his final two starts last year to take the FedEx Cup, then opened this year with a fourth-place finish — at 26 under — two weeks ago in Hawaii in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Last year in the desert, the 29-year-old former UCLA player closed with a Stadium-record 61 to finish a shot behind winner Si Woo Kim. Cantlay will play the Stadium the final two days, with more wind expected Saturday.
“It’s a golf course that suits my game,” Cantlay said. “We’ll see how it plays tomorrow with the increased wind. ... Controlling your golf ball will be a premium tomorrow and leaving your golf ball in the correct spot will be really key to scoring well.”
Hoge will play tree-lined La Quinta on Saturday.
“I feel better playing La Quinta,” Hoge said. “A little more protected over there in the trees, a little shorter golf course. You can play a little more conservatively off tees and just get it in play and go from there.”
Zalatoris finished with a birdie from the wrong fairway on the par-4 ninth. The PGA Tour rookie of the year is making his first start of the year.
“I just gave myself chances,” Zalatoris said. “I hit a lot close and made a couple 20-, 30-footers to keep the round going and, obviously, making birdie on 9 from the wrong fairway is kind of the icing on the cake.”
He wasn't concerned about the wind that picked up just as he finished.
“I live in Texas, so I’m used to it,” Zalatoris said. “Really, playing golf the last few days without a lot of wind has been a little strange for me, so I’m looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
Hodges remained at 10 under after a 72 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.
Top-ranked Jon Rahm was 8 under after a 70 at the Nicklaus layout. He won the 2018 tournament.
Kim was 4 under in his title defense after a 68 at Nicklaus.
Tournament host Phil Mickelson was 155th in the 156-man field at 7 over. He shot a 73 at Nicklaus after opening with a 78 at La Quinta.
New year, same Nelly Korda as she leads LPGA season opener
Nelly Korda competed last month in the PNC Championship alongside her father, former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, and said she did not have the offseason that many other players had.
It shows. The start of 2022 has been a continuation of the monster season she put together a year ago.
Korda, at 23 the No. 1 player in the women's game, shot 6-under 66 at Lake Nona on Friday to take a one-shot lead over Gaby Lopez and Danielle Kang at the midway point of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
Through two rounds, Korda is at 10-under 134. Her older sister and the defending champion, 28-year-old Jessica Korda, is two shots back.
Nelly Korda is accustomed to success at Lake Nona, where 11 months ago she captured the Gainbridge LPGA, which has moved venues this season. Korda has played six competitive rounds at the course and never shot worse than 69. Friday’s effort was her lowest to date. She birded all four of the par 5s and finished with seven birdies, rolling in a 15-footer at No. 18 for the lead.
She is making the game appear pretty easy.
“I guess it’s very similar to the golf course I play at Concession,” Korda said of her club, which is roughly 2 hours away in Bradenton. “I kind of feel more at home here. I love the golf course, love the layout. I love that it’s a good challenge. The rough is pretty thick this year, too. So I kind of like to embrace those challenges.”
Lopez led after 18 holes and won this tournament two years ago. She overcame two late bogeys with a closing birdie of her own, chipping in at the par-4 18th for a 68. Given that it’s the first event of a new season, she said she can forgive the sloppy bogeys she made at the 15th and 17th holes.
Little was going to dampen Lopez's mood in a grouping alongside one of her heroes, Annika Sorenstam, a 72-time LPGA winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member who is competing this week in the tournament’s 50-player celebrity division.
Sorenstam, a Lake Nona member, and former major league pitcher Mark Mulder, a former winner of the celebrity competition, have 68 points in the modified Stableford system, trailing former MLB right-hander Derek Lowe by a point.
Sorenstam, known as one of the more stoic competitors in the game, took notice that late bogeys in the round by Lopez, a two-time winner on tour, did little to rattle her demeanor. The payoff came at 18, where Lopez’s approach from a funky lie came up short of the green but she still found a way to make birdie. Lopez’s caddie told her afterward he had a feeling she was going to hole the chip.
“She seems quite poised, seems quite together,” Sorenstam said. “(The bogeys) didn’t really shake her too much, which I think is good. We all know there is going to be few bad shots here and there, maybe a bad bounce, but she just came back.
“She’s been here for seven years, she said, or her seventh season. I guess she’s getting a bit more mature knowing what it takes to be out here, and not getting too uptight when things don’t go your way.”
Kang, a runner-up to Jessica Korda in this event a year ago, posted a bogey-free 67, including a 7-iron from 155 yards that she holed for eagle at the par-4 seventh. Jessica Korda also shot a bogey-free 67.
Scoring could be more difficult on Saturday, when temperatures are expected to cool and rain could be a factor.
Lake Nona, which played host to the first Solheim Cup in 1990, is a course that commands a player’s attention, but with two days of only gentle wind coming off the lake, scoring conditions have been friendly. Nelly Korda hit a few loose shots, but her good stuff was very good.
She enjoys both the competition against many of the game’s top players (all 29 LPGA competitors are tournament winners) and the laid-back atmosphere of being paired alongside athletes and entertainers. She played Friday with former MLB players Lowe and Kevin Millar, two good friends.
“It’s kind of like the best of both worlds,” Korda said, “because you can keep it light and chat with them, but you also have to concentrate, execute the shots. At the end of the day this is an official event as well. ... I kind of separate the two. It’s also a lot of fun to walk down fairways and laugh nonstop.”
A five-time winner last year — including the Women's PGA Championship and the Olympic gold medal — she is halfway to laughing herself all the way to the winner’s circle. Again.
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